Are the Worship Wars Really Over?

In a recent article titled “The Waning of the ‘Worship Wars,’” Christianity Today reported on the findings of the National Congregations Study, which you’ll find quite interesting if you’re involved in church music in any way. You should definitely read the whole article, but I’ll summarize a few of the big points here:

• Since the year 2000, the use of bulletins, choirs and organs has dropped by almost 10 percent (mainly in evangelical congregations). The fading role of a choir is more pronounced in larger evangelical congregations (with more than 100 people), having dropped a whopping 33 percent.

• In the same time period: “Applause is up 10 percent, raising hands and using drums are both up 14 percent, and the use of projection equipment is up by 23 percent.”

• About 35 percent of congregations see an electric guitar on their platform (no word about banjos, as far as I could tell).

• Fewer churches now hold multiple services with different worship styles. And just over half of American churches have more than one service on Sundays.

• There’s also a noticeable trend toward informality of dress.

The full article goes much deeper and offers many more interesting observations on the state of worship in the American church. The full study is definitely worth a serious read.

I wanted to offer a few reactions/thoughts for my fellow worship leaders as we look back at the trends of the last 15+ years, and look ahead at how we might remain faithful to Christ in the midst of some significant moves away from tradition.

Some of this is good
I would agree that there is indeed a sense (and now statistics to confirm that sense) that the worship wars have waned. Praise the Lord. I don’t pick up on the same level of combativeness and hostility in churches around the topic of music, and in my interactions with other worship leaders—even ones at churches with large/diverse music programs and styles—they share this experience (for the most part).

Some people are very glad about this
The trend toward informality, more traditionally “charismatic” worship expressions, the use of projection, the presence of electric guitars, and the slow decrease of the use of organs and choirs make many people very glad.

Some people are very sad about this
But many people are lamenting these trends and find the informality, technology, contemporary music and loss of more traditional musical elements to be quite concerning and discouraging.

For sure, some people unhealthily idolize organs and choirs (just as some people unhealthily idolize bands and screens). But I would say that most people who prefer organs and choirs are not your stereotypical church curmudgeons. Many of them are sweet people who appreciate a thoughtfulness, reverence, preparedness and weightiness in their corporate worship that, for them, is more prevalent when an organ and choir is at the musical helm of a service. We actually owe these people, and the values they rightfully extol, our pastoral care and attention.

Choirs and organs are hard work
Dare I say that one reason why the presence of choirs and organs in churches is becoming less common is that they’re a lot of work. Building, leading and cultivating a good, healthy choir requires a director with the proper training, gifts and temperament. Utilizing an organ requires someone who can actually play it (hopefully well) and oftentimes a lot of money to keep the instrument in playable condition and tune.

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Jamie was born and raised in Florida as a preacher’s kid. Since age 14, he has been leading worship pretty much every Sunday of his life, experiencing all of the joys and trials of church ministry. For over 10 years, Jamie has been writing at his blog, Worthily Magnify, in the hopes of helping worship leaders lead better. In 2006, Jamie married Catherine, and they now have four wonderful kids: Megan, Emma, Callie, and Jacob, who keep them busy, laughing, praying, and very grateful to God.